Amish provide grist for Oregon author’s novels
Published: September 27, 2006
By JEANNE DEVLIN
Central Coast Currents
With two mystery series to her credit, author Barbara Workinger has only one regret: “I wish I’d done it 30 years ago,” she said.
“If you’re a young person — or any age person — who wants to write a book ‘someday,’” emphasized Workinger, “I have only one thing to say:
She says one of her own coldest reality checks happened at a writers group. “They’d been meeting for 20 years,” she said, “and no one had ever published a thing. One woman had been writing a travel journal for 25 years, and she hadn’t done anything with it.”
Workinger vowed to do better by her writing. She wrote her first novel upon moving to Pennsylvania Dutch country 20 years ago.
“It was a romance that became a romantic suspense, and it numbered 700 pages,” said Workinger. “Like most first books, it was sink sludge going down the drain before the water will run clear.... I got it out of my system, and it is still in some drawer, where it will stay.”
She doesn’t regret the time she lavished on the romance, because in the process she learned something about herself as a writer.
“Everything I tried to write turned out a mystery,” said Workinger, so she decided to become a mystery writer.
“It was all I ever read, anyway,” she said.
The minute she got focused, doors opened. She found an agent via a friend (who of all things had read her discarded romance novel). And she got an idea that has subsequently provided her not one but two popular mystery series. “I had an interest in the Amish,” said Workinger, “and where we were living, we were surrounded by them. Writing about them and a mystery seemed a good thing to do.”
A former researcher for United Press International, she took her fact gathering seriously — going back to college to take a class on the Amish and reading 175 books on the subject. “The more I got to know the Amish, the more I respected them and the more I wanted to write about them” she said. “No Amish person had any problem with that as long as I got the facts right.”
“I learned they have a culture like no other,” said Workinger. “No other people are just like them. My books (“In Dutch Again,” “Plain and Deadly”) are a peek into a society you would otherwise never have” — with a little mystery on the side.
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Plain Mysteries Intrigue Local Writer
By HOWARD KOLUS
Staff Writer Lebanon (PA) Daily News
All Granny Hanny intends to do is to deliver one of her fancy quilts to a neighbor in her Amish community in Lancaster County. When there is no answer at the door, the feisty grandmother pushes it open only to discover her friend lying dead on a stair landing with a butcher knife plunged deep into her chest.
That’s how author Barbara Workinger begins “In Dutch Again”, the first in a series of at least three mystery novels featuring Hannah Miller, “an energetic, mystery reading Amish grandmother” who solves crimes with the help of her granddaughter, Caroline, an attorney.
Workinger, born and raised near San Francisco, Calif., and who is a grandmother herself, admitted falling in love with the Amish culture shortly after moving to the area.
“When I move anywhere I start driving around and learning where I am and I kept getting into the Amish country,” she said. “I wanted to find out about it without intruding. I took classes at Elizabethtown College and talked to people for 10 years before I started writing. I was so wrapped up in the research I thought I would never get to the writing!”
A former technical writer and researcher and fact-checker for United Press International and a former antiques dealer, Workinger spent about nine months completing the 165-page novel, which was published last September.
“I love mysteries and thought maybe I could come up with a good one,” she said. “I met (an actual) ‘Granny Hanny’ in the Amish country,” she said. She thought the name was so good that she included it in the book.
Although Workinger admitted to taking “a little literary license” with her character, she also insisted that there’s nothing in the book an older Amish woman couldn’t do in real life.
“She doesn’t resort to violence; her only weapons are her sharp wit, insatiable curiosity and she’s very intelligent,” Workinger said. But, she added with a touch of humor, “if a real person stumbled across every single body that Granny Hanny does, there wouldn’t be anybody left in the area!”
“This is not a hard-edged mystery,” she added. “There’s a lot of humor in it. It’s a gentle book, a cozy mystery . . . that a middle school kid could read and it would be OK.”
A sequel, “Shoefly Pie To Die,” is due out early next year, while “Seven Sweets, Seven Sours,” which might be the final volume, will go to the printer toward the end of 2004. In a departure from other mysteries, the series also offers recipes in its closing pages.
“I won two recipe contests . . . so that’s one of my hobbies,” Workinger explained. “Dutch” includes a recipe for coconut cake, “the cake served at a traditional Amish wedding,” she added. “All the recipes have been tested by me and several friends.”
Workinger, who has written magazine articles and columns about antiques and coins “I began collecting coins, which was a bad thing because I’m much better spending them,” she quipped exhibits an infectious sense of humor.
Susceptible to allergies, she declared, “I’m going to wrap myself in crime scene tape I have a roll with only my eyes showing. I’m going to wrap it really tight."
But while Workinger tries to avoid allergic reactions, she enjoys mysteries, admitting that she has read them from the age of 6. Her next series of books, mysteries that are also set in Lancaster, will involve investigator Ellerie March and sidekick Rosie Fox, a former big band singer. The first in the as-yet-unpublished series is entitled “Plain and Deadly.”
Books are an integral part of Workinger’s life, the works of other authors having become like old friends.
“I have a large collection of mysteries,” she said. “(But) I read everything, three or four books, fiction and nonfiction, a week.”
Currently her focus is on developing the “Granny Hanny” series. One Amish friend, who read the “In Dutch Again” manuscript, had a few suggestions, but told Workinger that the Amish “don't mind being written about as long as you’re accurate,” said Workinger.
“I do make it very clear in the book that this is not your typical Amish woman,” she added. “I never put her in a violent situation or take her out of her Amish dress.”